He and His Brother-in-Law, the Besht

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The Yahrzeit of Rabbi Abraham Gershon of Kitov (1701?-1760) is commemorated on the 24th of Adar. The following meise / hasidic tale appeared in Sefer HaHasidut, Meah Tzadikim, Raphael, Yitzchak, 1961, Tel Aviv. (Freely translated by Gabbai Seth Fishman.)

He and His Brother-in-Law, the Besht

As a first step toward realizing his God-given purpose, the Baal Shem Tov (the Besh”t), became a Hebrew School teacher for small children in a community in the vicinity of Brody. Everyone saw him as a man blessed with a divine grace for, he was an extremely noteworthy scholar and a great sage. It seemed as though every community concern turned out, in the end, as aligning with his assessment from the start.

As it happened, our teacher, the Rav Ephraim, (the father of Rabbi Abraham Gershon of Kitov), had a dispute with one of the people of the community where the Besh”t was.

Reb Ephraim came there and spoke with his opponent saying that he should travel with him to the holy community of Brody to find a resolution between them according to Jewish law. And the man said:

“Listen! There is one teacher with us here who is notable in knowledge of Torah and, he is a fair judge such that every time a case comes before him, both of the sides are satisfied with him because he rules well in his decisions. Please, let’s come before him and let’s present our claims and if I am not happy with his assessment then I will return with you to the holy community of Brody.”

And Reb Ephraim accepted his suggestion.

And they came before the Besh”t, and immediately, when the Rav our teacher the Rav Ephraim came before him, the father saw through divine inspiration that his daughter was a match for the Baal Shem Tov.

Reb Ephraim’s soul was drawn to the idea of tying his soul with the soul of the Baal Shem Tov through somehow marrying his daughter to him.

And after this, the opponents presented their claims before him, and there were many differences and conflicts between them, but, as it came to light, their resolution was very much a judgment of truth.

It was a wonder in Reb Ephraim’s eyes and he felt great love for the Baal Shem Tov. And while all this was taking place, he learned that the Besh”t was single and was in need of marrying a woman.

The Rav, our teacher the Rav Ephraim, had a divorced daughter. So he came to the Besh”t and told him:

“Relax. I’m not here to talk about the case. I have heard that you are single. Perhaps it would be fitting to your sensibilities to marry my daughter.”

And he replied:

“This feels right to me. However, given that in this community many of the leaders have similar wishes for me, therefore, you must hide the matter so that no person knows, because I don’t want to appear impudent after they have been so constantly good to me.

“So, if this suggestion will jibe with your sensibilities, let’s write a contract of binding provisions for a Mazel Tov for a match. But there’s one more thing I want to reinforce with you: You should make the match with me as an individual; not for my Torah knowledge or my wisdom.

“For it is not my wish in any way for you to multiply my praises or exaggerate my standing. Just that you should write simply, ‘My teacher Yisrael son of my teacher Eliezer.'”

And after they were both ready to finalize the arrangements, Reb Ephraim agreed to all the suggestions and they wrote with Mazel Tov, the binding provisions in simplicity. And they did not write therein the place of origin for “My teacher Israel”. And as requested, the matter was unknown to any person but the two of them.

As chance would have it, while our Rav our teacher the Rav Ephraim traveled home, he fell ill and, from this illness, he died, passing on to his eternity.

The holy community of Brody and his son, the great Rav, Rabbi Gershon Kittever, were notified of the passing of Rav Ephraim.

Reb Gershon came to his father to mourn him properly, and he was given all the papers which were in his possession when he died. And among them, he found the marriage agreement and saw that his father had matched the daughter, (sister of the Rav, our teacher, the Rav Gershon), with some man whose name was “Israel”.

And it was a wonder in his eyes. For, his father was a well-known person. And why would he make a match with a person of lowly station? And also, that this should be with a Mr. such-and-such of unknown place or family? And he told the matter to his sister.

And she said:

“Being that it was fitting in the eyes of our father, we shouldn’t question this.”

The Besh”t waited until the school year ended and, he came to the one in charge and he told him:

“I am leaving for a bit but, I will return to my position.”

Next, he changed his appearance and his speech and he went to the holy community of Brody to the house of the Rav our teacher, the Rav Gershon mentioned above.

When he arrived, he found that there were two disputants who were sitting before the Rav Gershon and, he was overseeing their case, taking into consideration his knowledge of all of the laws which came to bear on the case.

The Baal Shem Tov waited and stood near the door of Rav Gershon’s house.

The Rav our teacher the Rav Gershon saw him standing there and thought that he was a pauper looking for charity. And so, Rav Gershon took a small coin, a perutah, which he tried to give him.

But the Besh”t said:

“I have a private matter to discuss with you.”

And the Besh”t accompanied Rav Gershon to a private room where he showed him the marriage agreement and said to him:

“Bring my wife.”

And when, after seeing this man and his apparel, the above-mentioned Rav Gershon heard these words he became alarmed and, he was mystified because of the shabby appearance, and he said to himself:

“What was this that my father z’l did?”

So he excused himself and called his sister.

He told her of the whole affair and she replied to him with her words:

“Since our father did this, regarding what to do, I would say that there’s no question here. And surely this is from Hashem.”

So, they arranged the wedding and set the time.

Before the ceremony, the Besh”t said he wanted to speak with his wife beforehand. They spoke in private.

He revealed the truth to her of how it had happened, what all had transpired, when it all occurred, and the promise to not reveal any of this at all.

After the wedding the Rav, our teacher Rav Gershon wanted to study with him, thinking that perhaps his new and unschooled brother-in-law would receive some words of torah, however the Besh”t concealed his acuity from him, and acted as though he didn’t comprehend at all.

The Rav Gershon said to his sister:

“Behold! He is truly a great disgrace to me. If you want to divorce him, that would be a good thing to do. If not, I will purchase a horse for you so you can ride far away and dwell wherever you’d like. For I cannot bear your being degraded through this association.”

Although she told him she agreed, the happy couple went away.

The Baal Shem Tov established a place to sojourn and went to places where he would meditate in the great mountains –

After this, the Rav our teacher, the Rav Gershon rented a place in the country for use by the new couple to provide them support and, there the Baal Shem Tov acquired great wholeness, building for himself in the forest a space for contemplation where he prayed and studied all the days including the nights…

Such was his practice for some number of years and then, before the sun set on the holy Sabbath, the Besh”t came home. His brother-in-law, Reb Gershon of Kitov, still under the impression he was a complete unlettered boor was still trying to persuade his sister to divorce him. But she didn’t want this for she knew of her husband’s true nature but would not reveal it to any person…

(from the tales of the Hasidim)

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